March and April are a one-two punch of Evan Dorkin at Dark Horse Comics, as the “Milk and Cheese” creator re-teams with Jill Thompson for a new “Beasts of Burden” one-shot this week; and on April 23, Dorkin returns to the worst side of fandom for the last time in the final miniseries for “The Eltingville Club.”
“Beasts of Burden” follows a cast of animals who protect the fictional community of Burden Hill against supernatural horrors beautifully rendered by Thompson. Although readers saw the “Beast of Burden” cast fairly recently in the “Neighborhood Watch” one-shot (collecting chapters of the story that appeared in “Dark Horse Presents”), “Hunters and Gatherers” presents a whole new adventure for the animal protectors, which takes place a few weeks after “Neighborhood Watch.”
Meanwhile, Dorkin is set to debut the beginning of the end of “The Eltingville Club,” a concept he originally debuted more than two decades ago poking fun at the dregs of fandom represented by the Eltingville Comic-Book, Science-Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, and Role-Playing Club: Josh, Pete, Bill and Jerry. The strip proved so popular, it even received an animated Adult Swim pilot in 2002. But now, it’s time to say goodbye — the first of a two-issue finale, “The Eltingville Club” #1 marks the beginning of the end for the club.
CBR News spoke with Dorkin about his latest “Beasts of Burden” one-shot, the development of “Eltingville” as a concept, how the club members represent the worst of fandom and more. Plus, some updates on Dorkin’s other projects, including more “Beasts of Burden” and “Fun Strips” for “Dark Horse Presents.”
CBR News: Evan, you’ve had quite a few different adventures already with the “Beasts of Burden” cast — what made you decide it was time to return for another one-shot?
Evan Dorkin: Basically, when Jill’s available to work on the book we work on the book. I have three notebooks of material right now, the entire storyline is pretty much sketched out, with room for diversions and side-trips. If I had my way I’d be working on Beasts full-time, it’s my favorite project and the one I’m always thinking about. It’s a labor-intensive book and Jill’s in high demand so it takes awhile for us to get these stories out there. I wish we were on a regular schedule but unfortunately I don’t see that ever happening.
Readers haven’t seen the Beasts since the stories in “Dark Horse Presents” (collected as the “Neighborhood Watch” one-shot.). Where does this “Hunters & Gatherers” one-shot pick up?
Pretty much a few weeks after the events of “Neighborhood Watch.” We’re still in the summer of the second year of the story, still showing the characters growing into their roles as protectors of Burden Hill. They’re getting the hang of dealing with most things on their own, while the more-experienced and capable members of the Wise Dog Council are off taking care of business in other parts of the country. Hunters and Gathers was supposed to be the first part of a mini-series, it stands alone, but it also sets up events that will come into place in our next three issues. We check in on Emrys and the other Council members, shows our band of heroes dealing with a new menace, push along the sub-plot with Dymphna, the mysterious witch’s familiar, and ratchet up the evil quotient in Burden Hill. There’s a story and it brings things up to date and moves things forward.
“Beasts of Burden’s” stories draw from the occult and horrific while maintaining a certain level of cute through its animal cast. How does “Hunters & Gatherers” continue to evolve the series’ formula?
It doesn’t. We spin comic book gold like we always do. “Hunters and Gatherers” has horrific stuff and occult stuff and cute animal stuff and people will buy it and love it or else.
One of the draws for “Beasts of Burden” is that the concept is so delightfully friendly to new readers, but according to the solicitations, “Hunters & Gatherers” is hyped as an especially good jumping-on point. What makes this a great place for new readers to join up?
I don’t know. That’s something the marketing people put in Previews. [Laughs] I sort of kid. But, yeah, like I said, there’s a story and it brings things up to date and moves things forward. Cats and dogs versus the supernatural in a small town, that’s all you really need to know. There isn’t 75 years of backstory here. Even if you don’t know the character’s names you can pick them out easily by type and breed, there’s the beagle, there’s the orange cat, there’s the dead thing eating the orange cat. We try to be open to new readers with every story we can, because old readers die and we need a few thousand new people behind this or I’m back at McDonald’s flipping burgers and the middle finger.
So much of the series’ allure is the collaborative effort between yourself and series artist Jill Thompson. What kind of designs do you and Jill have in store for readers this time around?
All the cats are now LEGO Red Lantern mini-figures and the dogs are all Scribblenauts because we want to appeal to the fans and be rich and famous and do terrible work people buy anyway because we’re rich and famous. There’s also a really cool monster but I’m not going to tell you about it because people should read a comic to find out what happens. I think we show some dead squirrels, too. For people that like that sort of thing.
Any particular scene that you’re excited for readers to see Jill’s take on?
Yes. Every page Jill paints has something on it worth staring at, but there’s always a few pages that have more impact than others. Buy the comic, decide for yourself. Or look at in the store, I don’t buy comics myself, they’re too expensive on a cartoonist’s salary.
[Laughs] It’s been quite some time since there’s been a concrete update on the “Beasts of Burden” movie. Is there anything you can share about how the process is going?
The option is still ongoing, and they’ve spent a lot of money developing it. Whatever happens, happens. I worry about the comics. That’s enough to worry about.
You also have the return of your “Dork” characters in “The Eltingville Club” coming in April, about the four worst fans that have ever lived. You’ve said in previous interviews that the series draws a bit from your time working in a comic store. Are there any particular experiences that you’ve drawn from for this series?
“Eltingvillle” isn’t specifically about my time working in a shop, although the second issue does deal heavily with the retailing end of things. I’m a life-long fan, I worked in a comic shop for close to six years, and I make funnybooks for a living, so, yeah, obviously my own experiences form the basis for “Eltingville.” It’s not a straightforward autobiographical strip, but my own life is in there; I shoplifted trading cards, the characters are based on me and my friends from my teenage years, we fought like crazy, although not as crazy as what happens in the comics. It’s a mix of truth and exaggeration, memory and research, looking through Previews and wanting to throw up.
It’s also the last story of the Eltingville Club. How does it feel after so many years to be writing the last saga of these characters that have been around for all this time?
It feels great. The characters drive me crazy and I can’t wait to be finished with them.
I recall you saying that you’ve gotten hate mail about these stories in particular — that’s interesting, considering the series as a whole originated from hate mail that Dan Vado got for writing “Justice League.” What made you want to revive showing this side of fandom in the comics medium?
It’s not so much a revival as a return from a long hiatus. I started preliminary work on these last two stories — the break-up and the epilogue — back in 2000. Since then I’ve done a couple of shorter “Eltingville” stories for Dork and Dark Horse Presents but I wasn’t able to end the series while I was with SLG. I’ve been publishing primarily through Dark Horse for the past few years and after we collected “Milk and Cheese,” [and] putting the nail in “Eltingville’s” coffin was something I had my eye on. “Eltingville” started with Dark Horse in “Instant Piano” in 1993, and it’ll end with Dark Horse in a few months. I wish we could have done it on the 20th anniversary, but I never really do anything for publishing anniversaries anyway, so no harm done.
Since you started writing the Eltingville Club escapades, the landscape of fandom has certainly evolved. As fandom has developed and expanded over the years, how has “The Eltingville Club” evolved to reflect those changes, if at all?
“Eltingville” is about fans who don’t change or evolve, so no, there’s no hope or change here, at least not in the first issue. These are people who resent the increasing acceptance and swell of fandom, fandom is their whole being and identity and new people coming into the hobby through mass media are suspect — fake girl geeks and fan model decoys. “Eltingville” is about the worst of the hobby, it’s about the rot within fandom and retailing as well as the professional ranks. It’s funny, hopefully, because it’s not real, and it’s exaggerated, but there are “Eltingville”-types out there clogging up the works, with some of the worst cretins sending death threats to Dan Slott or threatening Anita Sarkeesian with rape and violence because she talks about misogyny in video game culture. You wish it was all in a comic book and not in real life, but there are some sad and broken people out there.
Looking forward, what’s on the horizon for you beyond “Beasts of Burden: Hunters & Gatherers” and “The Eltingville Club”
Jill’s currently painting another “Beasts of Burden” one-shot called “What the Cat Dragged In,” and after that we have a two-part mini-series called “The Presence of Others.” I wish I could tell you we have a schedule for those. I finished up eight pages of “Fun Strips” for “Dark Horse Presents,” they were supposed to run in June but apparently they’re re-launching the title so I can’t say when those are going to run. There’s one more DC Nation “Metal Men” short left to air that Sarah Dyer and I wrote, but I have no idea why it’s delayed or when it will run. I have no idea what I’m working on after Eltingville’s wrapped up. I guess when I finish up the final page I’ll play “Skylanders” with my daughter, cry myself to sleep and start looking for work.
“Beasts of Burden: Hunters & Gatherers” is on sale now. “The Eltingville Club” #1 launches on April 23.